My first semester, however, I struggled with writing papers. The work that had earned me A’s and honor roll status in high school wasn’t A worthy in college. My professor in my English literature class had advised me to seek help at my college’s writing center to even reach out to fellow classmates who were receiving A’s in the class. Eventually, my professor had us revise one another’s essays in class. A friend of mine read mine and after making the edits she’d suggested, I received an A on my final draft -- the first in my time at Smith.
I knew I was supposed to feel happy about this success, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t deserve the grade I’d earned.
Imposter’s syndrome, as it is called by psychologists, is the failure of high achievers to internalize their accomplishments and successes. It is common amongst college students, but it is disproportionately common amongst people of color, low-income students and women, all groups that are more likely to be first-generation college students. A student with imposter’s syndrome will often feel like they do not deserve the successes they have achieved -- so receiving high marks in a class will feel less like an accomplishment and more like a fraud.
When I received an A on my English paper by getting help from a friend, I felt like I had cheated and didn’t deserve such a high mark since it had not been achieved entirely on my own. To a student with imposter’s syndrome, achievements are almost always brushed to the side. A student with imposter’s syndrome will say things like “Admissions made a mistake; I don’t belong here” and “I don’t deserve to be at this college.”
Students with imposter’s syndrome could not be more wrong. In my first-generation student orientation group before the start of classes, I was constantly reminded “We don’t make mistakes here. You’re here [at Smith College] for a reason.” Students with imposter’s syndrome need to be reminded that they are worthy of success and deserve to be at their respective colleges.
Need some tips at battling imposter’s syndrome? Don’t compare yourself to others, first and foremost. Comparison brings on negative self-talk, something college students struggling need to curb in order to succeed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, either! Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re less than other students. You learn more from receiving help. Finally, don’t be afraid to admit your own successes. You have earned your place at your college and deserve to be there. All your accomplishments are yours alone and you are worthy of success.
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